IT was Neil Adams, as I recall, who described Judo as being martial arts best kept secret. Such a description is hardly surprising to those of us that study the deeper and wider aspects of what for many is simply a combat sport.
It is highly fashionable to look at Mixed Martial Artist, Brazillian Jujutsu and other grappling arts and suggest that Judo is an out-dated system that bears no relationship to genuine conflict. In my youth, incidentally, it was Kung Fu and Karate that were considered to be the ‘real’ deal when it came to how or what one should train in for real self-defence or unarmed combat. Back then, the striking arts were popularised by the TV series Kung Fu and the legend that is Bruce Lee. Now it is cage-fighters, with their eclectic mix of techniques that are looked upon as the leaders in the field of un-armed combat.
I am not, in this blog, going to decry any martial art. I have a simple philosophy regarding just about all of them: they all work. However, what I want to highlight is that Judo has a long tradition of being the unarmed combat system of choice for many law-enforcement and military establishments. Techniques devised by Kano are still in use today across the globe and of equal importance is the understanding of the philosophy behind the teaching methods. Kano’s Jujutsu, as it was briefly known before the term Kodokan Judo was employed, is a scientific study, with nothing left to chance regarding either the skills or the method of training: “Judo is the study of techniques with which you may kill if you wish to kill, injure if you wish to injure, subdue if you wish to subdue, and, when attacked, defend yourself,” he said succinctly.
There is not much room for misinterpretation there. Such a statement does not square with the sport aspect of Judo. Neither does it, paradoxically, fit with the straight forward view that Judo is an art based purely on self-development. Yet, the truth is that Kano’s fledgling art was adopted by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police as the unarmed combat of choice. Kano devised the renko-ho, a series of arrest and restraint techniques that are still in use in modern western police forces to this day and the idea of randori, or free practice is now something developed by other enforcement agencies under the heading of ‘role play.’
Randori, lest we forget, is a clever way of stress-testing both techniques and individuals; it is about learning what can and cannot be done under certain circumstances. We learn what works for us. In randori, we aim not to maim or injury our training partners, but instead learn how to use just the right amount of force to achieve the required ends.
It is the clever use of specific techniques and the equally clever training system that Kano devised that led to Judo being taken up first by the Tokyo Police and then other agencies across the globe. Judo became the core of unarmed combat for the British Army, the German Army and many others. Alongside randori, as a teaching method uchikomi is popular means of getting the ‘muscle memory’ to work in favour of rapid response to dangerous situations. Not so long ago I was on an arrest and restraint course when the instructor, knowing my background, pointed out to all that when the chips were down in a real conflict I would automatically revert to Judo as my main ‘staying safe’ tactic for the simple reason that I had trained my body over a period of some 30 years to do precisely that: he was right.
There is another reason why Judo remained for so long the art of choice for law enforcement and this has become more relevant in the days of litigation. As well as having several levels of operation, working through the kill, injure, subdue scenario that Kano spoke of, Judo is fundamentally defensive. Judoka learn how to block and redirect strikes, rather than hone the strikes themselves. This is about staying safe and containing a situation, keeping even the assailant safe.
So, you may ask, why is Judo not so highly rated now? The answer is that, in fact it is. Most police forces and prison services have moved away from teaching Judo per se. Back in the 1970s and 80s recruits were required to attain a certain grade at Judo, but now tai-ho jutsu holds sway in most police colleges.
The fact is, however, that tai-ho jutsu is a condensed and specialised version of judo. You could study a tai-ho jutsu manual and be convinced you are reading a guide to how to do Judo. The methods are the same, the aim is the same and even the techniques are the same as those devised by Kano. For sure a practitioner of the combat sport of judo may not recognise some of the techniques, but all of them are taken from the lexicon of Judo.
Neil Adams was bang on when he said that Judo was martial arts best kept secret. Since he made that statement many MMA people and cage fighters have recognised the efficacy of learning a few judo techniques, but the truth is if you want a one-size fits all art of unarmed combat, arrest and restraint or self-defence, you can do a lot worse that study Judo thoroughly.